Back in the arcade fighting game heyday of the ‘90s, 2D heavyweights like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat had to contend with a new brand of brawler on the block: the 3D fighter. Games like Virtua Fighter and Tekken forewent 2D sprites and single-plane gameplay in favor of 3D polygonal character models and a full range of movement within the combat arenas. Happily, it turned out that there was room for both kinds of fighters to coexist, with gamers enjoying 2D and 3D fighting games in harmony.
One of the most popular 3D fighting franchises to come out of this era was Namco’s Soul Edge, and more prominently its sequel SoulCalibur, both of which were noteworthy for their focus on weapon-based combat. SoulCalibur hit arcades in 1998, and was then ported to the Sega Dreamcast to launch alongside that system in 1999. The Dreamcast version was remarkable, featuring even better graphics than the arcade version and a wealth of additional modes and characters. In 2008 SoulCalibur was again resurrected for Xbox Live Arcade, boasting a high definition makeover but lacking any sort of online play.
And now in 2012, almost a decade and a half after the original arcade release, SoulCalibur [$11.99] is now available in the palm of our hands on iOS devices. The iOS version appears to be based off of the most recent XBLA version, utilizing those excellent high definition visuals for Retina Display and iPad screens. The framerate and animation is also incredibly smooth, another hallmark of SoulCalibur, and everything looks bright and crisp running on iOS. For those that didn’t already know, you would never guess that this was actually an almost 14 year old game.
However, just because it looks pretty doesn’t mean the iOS version doesn’t have its share of drawbacks. Most glaring is the lack of any sort of multiplayer mode, an integral component of any good fighting game. I can’t for the life of me figure out why Namco Bandai would omit such a feature, but the iTunes description does state that additional modes are planned so I’m still holding out hope for multiplayer sometime in the future. For now though, it’s sorely missed.
As for single player content, SoulCalibur comes with quite a few modes. There’s the standard Arcade ladder, Time Attack, Survival, Extra Survival, and Practice. Sadly, the Team Battle and Mission modes from previous versions aren’t in this iOS version. There’s also a Museum mode where you can set up matches and watch two AI players battle it out or watch an Exhibition where you choose a character and watch them go through all their moves solo. Finally, there’s Game Center integration with leaderboards for Time Attack, Survival, and Extra Survival modes as well as 11 achievements to unlock.
A big factor when considering fighting games on iOS is controls, and SoulCalibur comes through in this department about as well as you could hope for. That is to say the virtual controls aren’t perfect, but they’re entirely workable and just as good as any other iOS fighters out there. If you don’t have any trouble playing games like Street Fighter IV Volt [$2.99] or King of Fighters-i [$6.99], then you shouldn’t have any trouble here either. The button positions and opacity can also be adjusted however you like, which is appreciated. One problem I did have though was with some of the menu UI being a bit too small on the iPhone screen, thus making it hard to make a selection sometimes. A minor complaint, but annoying nonetheless.
Whether or not you need SoulCalibur on iOS will depend on how fond of the original you are, and how important multiplayer is to you. It’s at the higher end of App Store pricing at $11.99, and that’s at a 20% off introductory price. But, I loved the original on my Dreamcast and think the price is absolutely worth it to be able to carry SoulCalibur around in my pocket. As for the lack of multiplayer, it’s a shame, but there’s still plenty to do by yourself. There’s the Game Center leaderboards and achievements, and half of the game’s 19 characters need to be unlocked first, as do several other goodies in the game, giving some good incentive to continue playing.
If you can deal with its shortcomings, SoulCalibur on iOS is actually an excellent port. It looks great, runs smoothly, controls as well as a fighting game can without buttons, and offers a decent amount of single player content to play through. If we can get some kind of multiplayer or other missing modes via updates in the future, then we’ll really be in business.